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Monday, September 24, 2012

Legal Coercion - How the Government Invalidates Your Sixth Amendment Rights

The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution says: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

Plea bargains, however, have come to take a far more prominent role in recent years.

So prominent, in fact, that 97% (according to this source) of all criminal cases are resolved by plea bargains.

That's with an "average" conviction rate outside the federal system at a rate of around 75%.

So are that many more federal defendants guilty?  Or is this just some trick by the federal government to bypass the Sixth Amendment.

In this area an academic study revealed that college students, placed in a situation (rules, consequences, etc.) similar to what federal criminal defendants see, plead guilty 55% of the time even when innocent.

That's right, the federal government's model likely coerces defendants into pleading guilty at a similar rate even when innocent.  (See this as a recent example.)

Trials are expensive, so are lawyers, investigators, experts, and so on and so forth.

And, as illustrated by the popular TV program "The Closer" morphing into a plea-bargain-based "Major Crimes" we see what the focus of law enforcement is becoming.

Conviction at the lowest cost.  Get the defendant to do the minimum acceptable time for the crime without a trial via a plea bargain.

Clearly in the 1700's when the Constitution was penned the model for crime and conviction was far different.

But today, with governments going bankrupt there is tremendous pressure to save money.

Save money by cutting corners for those least in a position to deal with it.

So though you many enjoy the "right" to a trial it seems like the chances of you getting one are diminishing.

How can this be?

Quite simply by getting to to agree to your own guilt before the trial.

Problem solved for the state.

However, as the academic study points out, people will, in fear, confess to crimes they did not commit in order to obtain what they see as the "lesser of several evils."

So how is this different than a half an hour in closed room with a big cop and black jack?

Answer: It's not.

So its taken a few centuries but those in "governmental power" have again found a way to achieve what they had achieved in England before our forefathers left: a way to have absolute power over citizens.

In the past the motivation was purely power, in the case of England the power of the Crown.

But today, its the power of money, er, well, the power of cost savings and bureaucratic laziness.

Basically it boils down to either

A) Spend a couple of hundred thousand USD for a lawyer and maybe be acquitted.  Probably lose your house, your spouse, go bankrupt, etc.

B) Take the plea on a couple of years in prison regardless of your guilt.  At least you'll have a chance of not losing everything.

Can you say intimidation?

With today's economic crisis this will only get worse.

Its already moving down to the state and local level.

Sadly, this would seem to beg for fighting back with a trial that looked, at least to the government, as vastly expensive.

Forcing them to offer a lower plea rather than pay the big bucks to prosecutors, investigators, experts, etc.

Isn't the US justice system fair and fun?

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